book review

Voice to Voice in the Dark by Tim Hunt Review by Cat Dixon

Voice to Voice in the Dark by Tim Hunt

Review By Cat Dixon

Broadstone Books
Publication: August 2022
Paperback, 112 pages
ISBN: 978-1-956782-13-4

The spirit of the Beats pulses throughout this new collection from the poet Tim Hunt. The Beats, as we all know, were focused on genuine lived experiences and often protested against traditional modern life while celebrating art, music, and freedom. Tim Hunt has painted vivid scenes of the everyday with his imagery coupled with the hunger for travel, adventure, and hope. The poet calls out to the voices of the past—excellent poetry collection title—and gives the reader a glimpse into our current American life and its landscapes, both natural and manmade, with reminders of the near-distant past.

The collection opens with an invitation to the reader to go on a walk. The first section, “Poetry for Bread,” introduces Kansas on the verge of harvest. Hunt offers us nourishment for our journey in the form of imagery, prosody, and metaphor. He explores risk as well. In the poem “Here in the New West: American Canyon, ‘Gateway to the Napa Wine Country’ (August 2016),” he describes a game room and writes, “Here, each card matters. Win. Lose. Here, / they do not think about which can to open for dinner/ or what to pretend they want to watch on the TV…” The scene of the cardplayers absorbed with their cards mimics how each of us loses ourselves in something—be it film or literature or even a card game. As we latch onto distractions and devotions, Hunt reminds us that there is more to life than winning or losing, consuming and hoarding. Each day, each interaction matters.

In the poem “Between the Highway and Train Tracks (Vallejo, CA, August 2016),” Hunt brings us to a liquor store. He writes, “Here…. The upturned hand/ receiving the brown-bagged pint—/ the breadless communion/ of temporary salvation:/ blood of my blood: morning, / noon and night:/ forever and again. / Amen.” This quick detour has turned into a prayer, a lamentation. There is no sustenance in those bottles and pints; instead, the poet points us to what we can do, and what we should do. In the next poem “A Tomb for Melvin, Who Has None,” we’re reminded of the brevity and randomness of our lives. This line stays with me, “So, I offer this as if it could matter, as you once mattered..” What else can we give to our deceased loved ones and friends but our words, our memorials to those who once journeyed along the road with us? I thoroughly enjoyed Hunt’s take on Ginsberg’s famous poem “A Supermarket in California.” The poem, titled “A Truck Stop in Kansas,” is part portrait of the Midwest, part call to transcend the everyday.  

As we move through the second section, we stop in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The imagery here, focused on light, ends with this important ponderance about childhood ignorance/bliss:

         And as the setting sun winks the streetlights on
         and you wait for the Grand Parade to begin,
         you do not think to wonder whether your parents believe
         or pretend, because here, in this Magic Kingdom, you
         do not have to worry about that. 

Despite the happy setting, something is looming in the distance. Throughout the poems the reader catches glimpses of some kind of concern. There’s the “dark of the moon,” “fallen fruit,” the missed turn on the road, and “the lake’s spring-thinned ice.” All remembrances of the past are coupled with the pain of humanity’s selfishness and the hope for a better future. 

The third section, titled “In That Time When Time is Not Measured,” begins with childhood, younger days of innocence. My favorite piece here is “The Story,” which opens with, “This is the story you were told/ when you were too young to understand the story/ but could tell from the telling that you were meant to remember/ and carry it forward…” Later Hunt writes, “Even why a war?” This—paired with the “brown shirts and military caps” from the previous section and the poem “The Boy is Taken to the Soldier’s Grave,” which begins this new section, and the long poem “The Circle”—captures how our American history is marred by war, how our society is built on struggle, and how if we consider the whole picture of our past, we, too, may question how it has come to this. But Hunt doesn’t criticize the soldiers who served and are serving our country; instead, he recognizes their painful sacrifices and honors them. Hunt writes about how soldiers became great fighters in the poem “The Circle.”  He writes: 

         Because we learned to Hate—
         the t snapped like breaking a dried stick, 
         and this not a sign or memory but the thing,

         a never forgotten: brighter than pain,
         grief—a truth. The truth. The hate.
         And leaning back, arms closed, silent again. 

Hunts ends the collection with imagery that is carried throughout the poems: light, travel, and a boat returning to shore once again. These poems invite the reader to journey with the poet as he strolls a gas station with Allen Ginsberg, travels from Kansas to California, hops on a railcar, stops at a soldier’s grave, and ponders America’s past along with its vast landscape and its promise of a better tomorrow.

This book is available now in the Broadstone Books Catalog.